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Thumbs up, thumbs down, three stars: Bulldogs respond in swift, convincing fashion to early Pioneers goal, win 5-2

Fresh off its final bye weekend of the regular season, fourth-ranked Minnesota Duluth beat seventh-ranked Denver 5-2 on Friday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth forward Nick Swaney (23) celebrates after scoring a goal against Denver Friday at Amsoil Arena.
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth forward Nick Swaney (23) celebrates after scoring a goal against Denver Friday at Amsoil Arena.

Fresh off its final bye weekend of the regular season, fourth-ranked Minnesota Duluth beat seventh-ranked Denver 5-2 on Friday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

Sophomore center Justin Richards scored twice with sophomore wing Nick Swaney and freshmen wings Tanner Laderoute and Cole Koepke also getting a goal each. Junior goalie Hunter Shepard made 20 saves.

A full game recap can be found here .

Below are a pair of thumbs up from Friday's win by News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens, plus his three stars of the night.

Thumbs up to the Bulldogs response to Denver's early goal

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Both the Bulldogs and Pioneers took their final byes of the regular season last week, and it took UMD a little longer than Denver to shake off the rust on Friday.

Not too much longer, however, and once the rust was gone from UMD, boy was it gone.

Denver scored 2:50 into Friday's NCHC contest thanks to a turnover created behind UMD's own net. The Bulldogs responded 71 seconds later with the first of four-straight goals, including two by Richards.

It was 1-1 after the first, a Swaney goal made it 2-1 after the second and by the time nine minutes remained in regulation, it was 4-1 Bulldogs.

That's not the kind of outcome you expect in a showdown between Denver and UMD considering nine of the last 12 meetings have been decided by a single goal. The three that weren't were two-goal margins thanks to empty netters.

"To come out and respond to their first goal early was huge and a big momentum shift going into tomorrow," Richards said.

Thumbs up to the Bulldogs depth Friday

The Bulldogs were a team that could roll four lines without a sweat Friday, and that probably explains why they dominated Denver the way they did in the second and third periods.

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The reunited line of Koepke, Richards and Parker Mackay was an offensive force, as was Noah Cates, Peter Krieger and Swaney. Meanwhile the third (Riley Tufte-Jackson Cates-Laderoute) and fourth (Kobe Roth/Koby Bender, Jade Miller and Billy Exell) lines controlled the play with an aggressive, physical, energetic style that the Pioneers couldn't seem to match.

"You need everyone to beat a good team like Denver and we didn't really have a lot of weaknesses as far as our lines," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "Everyone contributed. I thought Jade and Billy and Kobe-Koby did a good job and gave us some opportunities. We have to follow it up tomorrow."

UMD outshot the Pioneers 22-12 in the final 40 minutes, including 12-6 in the third period. The Bulldogs outscored Denver in the final two periods 4-1, including 3-1 in the third.

Richards said after the game that Friday's performance reminded him of how UMD dominated last-place Miami in the series finale Jan. 19 in Oxford, Ohio. UMD only got a single goal that night in the third, but outshot the RedHawks 15-3 in the third to finish off back-to-back shutouts.

"Just playing simple, getting pucks deep and establishing a forecheck to not give them any hope to make a comeback," Richards said comparing Friday against Denver to Saturday against Miami. "We established (the forecheck) pretty well in the first period and kept with it all game."

Matt's Three Stars

3. UMD freshman wing Tanner Laderoute: The rookie returns from injury/illness and gets his seventh goal of the season to put the game out of reach for Denver in the third.

2. UMD sophomore wing Nick Swaney: His go-ahead goal in the second was key to UMD running away with the game Friday. It was his 12th of the season.

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1. UMD sophomore center Justin Richards: Two goals from the Bulldogs' leading scorer. The first ties the game and the second proves to be the deciding goal, giving UMD a 3-1 lead 9:40 into the third.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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